Agustín de Iturbide

Agustín de Iturbide
Agustín de Iturbide
Occupying a place in Mexican national memory as an arrogant self-serving opportunist and failure, Agustín de Iturbide (EE-toor-BE-day) was instrumental in securing Mexico’s independence from Spain, after which he installed himself as the new nation’s first (and only Mexican-born) emperor, only to be overthrown after a brief and ineffectual reign.

His rule extended for some 16 months: from September 28, 1821, when his so-called Army of the Three Guarantees marched into Mexico City, until his overthrow in mid-February 1823 by a coalition of rebels led by José Antonio López de Santa Ana. His reign as emperor was even shorter—the eight months from his coronation on July 21, 1822, to his forced abdication on March 19, 1823.

Unaware that the new congress had declared him a traitor and forbidden his reentry to Mexico, Iturbide returned from exile in Europe and was captured, tried, and, on July 19, 1824, in Padilla, Tamalpais, executed by firing squad.

Born in Valladolid (present-day Morelia, Michoacán), Mexico, Iturbide declined a post in the insurgency of Miguel Hidalgo in 1810, instead joining the Spanish royalist forces and helping to defeat the rebellion led by the renegade priest.

His royalist military career was undistinguished until 1820, when in response to the liberal Riego revolt in Spain, he switched sides, allied with liberal insurgent leader Vicente Guerrero, issued the Plan de Iguala, formed the Army of the Three Guarantees, and marched into Mexico City unopposed. His politics can be characterized as archconservative, his principal concern with maintaining the status quo and glorifying his person and rule.

His reign had an almost surreal quality. Ignoring the myriad problems confronting the new nation, its economy devastated by more than a decade of revolution and war, Iturbide focused instead on the details of the protocol for his coronation, hiring French tailors to devise suitably regal accoutrements, commissioning artisans to craft appropriately splendid royal standards and emblems for his reign, establishing national holidays to honor the birthdays of himself and his children, making his rule hereditary, and stifling all dissent and criticism to his increasingly autocratic rule.

Scholars generally recognize Iturbide’s acumen in understanding the general importance for centralized rule and nationalist trappings and symbols in a geographically expansive, newly independent nation-state wracked by division and strife.

Yet they also agree that Iturbide’s intolerance toward criticism and self-glorifying symbolism meant little in the absence of coalition-building or genuine engagement with the pressing issues of the day.

Iturbide did achieve one significant diplomatic coup in December 1822 when the U.S. Congress recognized his regime. That same month, Jose Antonio López de Santa Ana launched his revolt against the regime in his home state of Veracruz.

Iturbide’s last significant action as emperor came in January 1823, when he signed a decree permitting the settlement of parts of the territory of Texas by Stephen F. Austin’s colony of Anglo-Americans. In 1838, 14 years after his execution, Iturbide’s remains were interred in the National Cathedral in Mexico City.

To this day one would be hard pressed to find any public memorial to his rule or person anywhere in Mexico, testimony to the disgraced position Mexico’s first and only homegrown emperor occupies in Mexican national memory.